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17. November 2022, 5 min read

Make your restaurant accessible for guests with disabilities

Author: Birgitte Brøndum
A wooden welcome sign on a azure blue restaurant door
A wooden welcome sign on a azure blue restaurant door
Photo: Ketut Subiyanto

Dining out should be an enjoyable experience. Tasty food, great company, and service that brings out a smile is all that’s needed, right? For guests with disabilities, a pleasurable dining experience also requires good accessibility. A place where they can relax and enjoy delicious food without having to worry about a bunch of things. Make your restaurant that place!

When opening a new restaurant or renovating an already-established dining gem, there are a million decisions to make. Atmosphere, style and comfort should be balanced just right to give your guests the best experience. But if you want everyone to feel welcome, you need to make sure your restaurant is also accessible for guests with disabilities.

According to a 2018 survey from EuansGuide.com, an access review website for people with disabilities, only 19% of respondents thought restaurants had good accessibility. This is proof that there’s a lot to improve when it comes to restaurant accessibility. Let’s get started as soon as possible!

Below you’ll find a list of things you can do to improve your restaurant’s accessibility.

Is your restaurant’s entrance accessible?

Even if you’ve made good adjustments for accessibility inside your restaurant, your entrance can be what stops someone from visiting. Naturally, an entrance without steps and elevations is the most accessible, but restaurants aren’t always in buildings that are designed this way. If your restaurant has steps by the entrance you can invest in a portable ramp. Your staff can bring out the ramp when guests with mobility aids, such as wheelchairs or scooters, arrive for lunch or dinner.

Once you’ve gotten your ramp, use your social media and website to make guests aware of this improvement. You can also add a sticker on your window stating that you have a ramp available.

Prioritise bathroom accessibility

All guests will love if your bathrooms are clean, tidy and welcoming. But for guests with disabilities this is even more important. If the floors are slippery and cluttered with paper towels, it’s difficult for a person using a mobility aid to use it. Moreover, your bathroom will be a safer place for guests with disabilities if you install in emergency cord that’s reachable from the floor.

Can a restaurant menu be optimised for accessibility?

The answer is very much yes! But this is something restaurant owners often forget to think about. Forgetting this is disadvantage for both the restaurant’s revenue and for the guests who need a more accessible menu.

So what is an accessible restaurant menu? First of all, you need to consider the font, the font size and the colour contrasts. Large print will help your visually impaired guests read the menu. If possible, create a braille menu as well. You won’t only make the dining experience better for the visually impared guests, but also for friends and family dining with them. With an accessible menu in hand, all guests can focus on deciding which dishes to order, and nobody will need to read out loud or ask for help.

Do you usually write part of the menu on a blackboard hanging on the wall? While that does look pretty cool, it can be difficult for some guests to read. Why not have a printed version with large print available for guests who need it?

Restaurant accessibility online

When it comes to improving your overall restaurant accessbility, your online presence needs to be part of the equation as well. Many guests will want to have a look at your menu before they decide to book a table. For this reason, it’s important that your website is as accessible as possible. This also helps improve your website’s SEO value, and that’s an essential part of any restaurant marketing strategy. Think of it this way, you want to reach as many guests as possible, and that’s a lot easier when you pay attention to accessibilty.

Exactly as with the printed menu, things like font size and colour contrast are also important on your website. Moreover, by adding alt text to all website images you can help disabled guests who are using a screen reader. Alt text is a short, concise text that explains what’s shown on the image. This means that all guests will know whether a picture shows your creamy cauliflower soup or your new waiter. Something that seems like a minor detail can make a big difference for visually impared guests visiting your website.

This tool can help you check your website’s accessibility.

A woman in a wheelchair drinking coffee and using her laptop by the window counter in a restaurant
Photo: Pexels

An accessible restaurant is a place with more space

Many restaurants want to make room for as many guests as possible. This is often done by packing tables and chairs close together with very little space left to move on. While some guests find it easy to move a chair a bit to the side and squeeze behind someone else, this isn’t always possible for guests with disabilities. And for guests with mobility aids this can make it impossible to get around in your restaurant.

If you make sure that there are wider spaces between at least some of your tables, and a clear path to the entrance and the bathroom, you’ve already made your restaurant a more welcoming place for guests with disabilities. Does your your restaurant’s layout makes this difficult? Make sure your staff is ready help move around furniture whenever needed.

Very small restaurants and restaurants with certain layouts can be problematic when it comes to improving accessibility. If that’s the case for your restaurant, the best thing you can do is to make it clear on your website that some guests might find it difficult to move around when visiting you. Good information is also helpful for guests with disabilities, even if that means they won’t be able to visit your restaurant this time.

Restaurant guests with guide dogs and service dogs

Some guests with disabilities will arrive to your restaurant with a guide dog or service dog that assists them with various things. Visually impared guests and guests with hearing imparements might need a guide dog to help them navigate in public areas, open doors and other everyday tasks. Even if your restaurant doesn’t normally welcome dogs, service dogs and guide dogs should be allowed to enter your restaurant. These dogs have received professional training, and won’t leave the side of their owners while they’re in your restaurant.

Make your restaurant an even more welcoming place for guests with service dogs by bringing out water bowls for the dogs.

A service dog lying on a restaurant floor
Photo: Sarah Brown

Helpful restaurant staff means the world

Your staff’s helpfulness and training is incredibly important when it comes to accessibility. Get together for an accessibilty course and make sure all new employees are trained to help guests with disabilities. Once the red cord in your bathroom is pulled, everyone has to feel prepared to handle the situation in the best way possible.

Remember that communication is very important as well. There’s never a need to ask someone to go into details about a disability. All you and your staff need to know is what you can do to provide a happy dining experience. There are a lot of good resources online written by people with disabilities, such as, Euan’s Guide. Seek them out to learn more about learn why restaurant accessibility is so important.